Esau’s Café on Linden Avenue is among the few businesses in Carpinteria that has endured the test of time. On their website, they tell the fantastical story of the restaurant’s origin:
“The date was April 30, 1939. The place was the Golden Gate International Exposition, also known as the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair. Working in one of the tents in the food Pavilion was one W.C. Tom Esau, a talented young cook fresh from the Midwest. Visiting the World’s Fair was a prosperous restaurateur from Santa Barbara, looking for fresh ideas to brighten up the small beach town’s cooking scene. The fresh idea he brought back was none other than Tom Esau himself.”
Betting it all on a top-secret buttermilk pancake recipe, Tom opened Esau’s Coffee Shop on State Street in 1961, serving hearty portions and free surf reports to all who entered.
Current owners and world-traveled surfers, Scott and Arti Stanley, bought the business from the Esau family in 1978. Years later, the Carpinteria location opened in 2003, and is the last Esau’s on the coast opened.
“Esau’s is a mix of old school diner and conscious healthy eating. Happiness before trendy fads,” Arti said. “It’s got something for everyone from chicken fried steak lovers to tofu scrambles to gluten-free options. We try to have something for everyone while staying true to our home-cooked old-school diner foundation.”
Though Esau’s has won awards in the past from Sunset and Fodor’s Magazine, a well-loved pancake recipe can only bring you so far. Thankfully, the Stanleys received plenty of advice from friends in the restaurant business.
“Harry Davis (of Harry’s Plaza Cafe and Joe’s Cafe in Santa Barbara) replied when we asked him if we should buy Esau’s, ‘Do you want to do this for life?’” Stanley said. “And we said, ‘yes!’”
That mindset carries over to their secret for success. “We never think of this as a job. There was never a thought of making a profit and moving on,” Stanley said. “For us, it is a way of life. We love our customers, many of whom have become close friends. We love to be here and make peoples’ days happier with food, coffee and conversation.”
What sets Esau’s apart from other businesses is the portions. “(We) don’t sell an empty plate,” Arti said. “People pay for food, not open spaces on their plate.”
The beachside restaurant-without-airs has a secret menu that isn’t a secret at all – it’s whatever you fancy that day. “Do what you want with (the menu). And we love dogs and children! Run free and wild!”
As for a trade secret, the Stanleys make sure the customers come out the winners in the end. “Always make it from scratch. And if you can’t, buy it from someone who does,” Stanley said. “It costs more for sure, but it’s worth it in the end.”
Learn more about Esau’s at esauscafe.com.